Wednesday, February 28, 2007

'In God We Trust' hidden on new $1 coin

Have you seen the new U.S. $1 coins? My first impression was that the coin was designed by a committee made up of ACLU members.

What's missing? Try finding the words "In God We Trust" on the coin.

Our national motto is not on the front of the coin, which features an awful likeness of George Washington. The words are not on the back, which features the Statue of Liberty.

Look closer. You might need a magnifying glass.

I gave the coin to a colleague and asked them to find "In God We Trust" on it. It took them 1 minute and 15 seconds to find the inscription, but they weren't sure what the words said because they were so tiny.

The words "In God We Trust" are found on the edge of the coin.

"In God We Trust" has been our national motto for 50 years and has been imprinted on U.S. currency going back to 1864. Prominently featured on currency, until now.

These are the same words that the ACLU and atheists like Michael Newdow have tried for years to have removed from U.S. currency and "The Pledge of Allegiance."

All U.S. coins feature "In God We Trust" on the front. You can even make out the motto clearly on a dime. But good luck finding it on the new $1 coin.

Even if you find it, who knows how long it will remain on the coins. What part of the coin is the easiest to wear away? The edge, of course. How long will "In God We Trust" appear on the new $1 coins before the words are rubbed away entirely?

Has the ACLU and the militant atheists infiltrated the U.S. Mint?

If this trend continues, our currency will not be the same when our grandchildren grow up and have children of their own.

Judging from the U.S. Mint's previous failed attempts to widely distribute $1 coins (the Eisenhower dollar, the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the Sacagawea dollar), time may be on our side.

Americans simply don't want to carry dollar coins around. (An AP-Ipsos poll says three-fourths of people surveyed oppose replacing the dollar bill with a dollar coin.) Most people don’t like change in any denomination. When was the last time you bent over to pick up a penny?

The Mint plans to flood 300 million George Washington dollar coins into circulation and will release four new $1 coins each year through 2016 until all deceased U.S. presidents are featured on the coins. The 2007 coins will feature George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Sorry Millard Fillmore fans, you'll have to wait until 2010 to get your hands on coins bearing the likeness of the 13th president. The Mint has launched a big PR campaign to get children to collect the coins. No wonder George Washington has such a pained look on his face on the new $1 coin.

The effort to remove "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency needs to be nipped in the bud.

Other than the ACLU and Newdow, nobody was lobbying for the removal of "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency. A lot of people on the political left fail to understand that the Constitution does not exclude God from public life.

The establishment clause of the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. As long as the government does not establish a national religion at the expense of others, it's OK to talk about God, it's OK to display the Ten Commandments and a Nativity scene or put "In God We Trust" on our currency.

This nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles by men of faith. It's the ACLU and the secular progressives who have misled people into thinking that God has no place in our national dialogue. Of course, it’s a daily struggle for the nation’s Christians to display their faith in the public arena thanks to activist judges.

What can you do? Refuse to accept the coins. Write your congressman today and let him or her know that the anti-Christian crowd has gone too far. There's still time to correct the misguided attempt to remove "In God We Trust" from the nation's currency.

Fight to restore this nation's Judeo-Christian traditions. Don't let the ACLU and the minority of militant atheists win.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Al Gore leads an Oscar snooze-fest

How fitting that the 79th annual Academy Awards featured former Vice President Al Gore so prominently. Who better to represent the most boring Oscars program in the past 80 years?

The beefy Gore, who could have been mistaken for Steven Seagal, was everywhere at the Oscars, hamming it up in sketches with Leo DiCaprio, walking the red carpet with Tipper and accepting the award for best documentary (like any other movie had a chance on the Left Coast, where liberals migrate by the thousands.)

Were you able to stay awake for the nearly four-hour program? Early indications are that Sunday's show was one of the least-watched Oscars telecast ever.

If you missed it, consider yourself lucky. Here's some highlights. I mean lowlights.

Ellen DeGeneres was by far the worst host in the history of the program. The only mildly-amusing moment for DeGeneres was when she asked Steven Spielberg to take a photo of her and Clinton Eastwood with her digital camera. Otherwise, it was a trainwreck.

Who will host next year's telecast? Rachel Ray? Tyra Banks? Maury Povich? The producers could have their pick of any top tier entertainer in the world and the best they can do is a washed-up daytime talk show host?

My pick to host this year's Oscars was Borat, but nobody listens to me.

Was this the most anti-climatic Oscars ever? Front-runners Helen Mirren of "The Queen," Forest Whitaker of "The Last King of Scotland" and Jennifer Hudson of "Dreamgirls" all won, just like we expected.

Surprises? Not many. Eddie Murphy lost to Alan Arkin of "Little Miss Sunshine" for best supporting actor. A character-actor from the 1960s and 70s, Arking hasn't been in a feature film in about 20 years. That was truly an upset.

A lot of people thought "Happy Feet" winning for feature-length animation category was a surprise, but I had it pegged all along as the winner over "Cars," which won the Golden Globe and was a much bigger box office hit.

The same Hollywood lefties who voted for Al Gore's mockumentary about global warming also voted for "Happy Feet," which is about over-fishing. The Hollywood bunch isn't too bright. They saw penguins on a polar ice cap and thought it was a cartoon version of Al Gore's hot air movie.

Al Bore also deserves an award for most contrived speech of the night.

"This is not a political issue. It's not a political movie," Gore said about his political movie. "Some of the solutions will have to be worked out within the political sphere, but it really should be bipartisan, and it should be seen as a moral issue. It is the overriding moral issue of our time."

I don't think global warming would top my list as the top "moral issue of our time."

And how serious is Al Gore about this whole thing when he takes private jets to and from his global warming speeches?

Those weren't hybrid vehicles the stars arrived in Sunday for the Academy Awards. How much gas mileage does one of those stretch limos get, anyway?

The other thing about this year's Oscars that bugs me is the rash of foreigners who took the stage. One out of three winners did not speak English. Can we get interpreters next year?

In search of PennDOT

I received this interesting e-mail from a reader who was shocked that PennDOT was AWOL again after Sunday's mini-storm hit Southeastern Pennsylvania.

"I thought for sure that after what happened a week ago PennDot would be out in full force tonight. I was wrong. The drive home tonight was horrible and the roads untouched! I guess the PennDot people don't show up for work until Monday morning. You would think that they would be out salting the roads and getting ready for the busy morning commute tomorrow -- nope, not in this state. Personally, I've lost all confidence in PennDot. I'm glad that I have a 4WD truck to get me to work because the way it looks, when it snows -- you're on your own!"

The reader isn't the only one looking for PennDOT these days.

Some SE Pennsylvania Congressmen wanted to meet with PennDOT officials on Tuesday to figure out what went wrong with the Valentine's Day storm, but Gov. Ed Rendell is keeing PennDOT (and other key aides) in an undesclosed location.

I guess they've taken enough of a beating.

It's one thing for members of the state House and Senate to use his political appointees as punching bags, but Gov. Rendell has stepped in and said he won't allow three Pennsylvania Congressmen to get their licks in.

Rendell will not make four top aides available to meet with the Congressmen on Tuesday as planned.

Congressmen Charlie Dent, R-15th Dist., and Jim Gerlach, R-6th Dist., both members of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, expressed disappointment in Rendell's decision to prevent key state officials from participating in a meeting the representatives organized to discuss the state's response to the Valentine’s Day storm that shut down portions of Interstate 78.

The congressmen had invited leaders from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, State Police, and National Guard to discuss their involvement in the disaster's prevention and response efforts at a public meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 27, but were informed by the governor's office that none would attend.

While both congressmen acknowledged the governor's desire to allow officials to focus their attention on the state's independent investigation, they were still disappointed over the governor's decision.

"I very much want to find out what happened on that day and, most importantly, discuss what we, as state and federal officials, can do to prevent that event from ever happening again," Gerlach said.

Gerlach and Dent plan to accept the governor's request to delay the meeting until the completion of the state inquiry lead by former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt.

"We will expect the full cooperation of state agency officials at the conclusion of Mr. Witt's investigation," explained Dent, who also serves as ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response.

The third congressman scheduled to participate in the meeting is Tim Holden, D-17th Dist.

Rendell's aides spent two grueling days (Feb. 22 & 23) before Senate and House committees in Harrisburg.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The firing line: Which Rendell aides will lose their jobs over the I-78 fiasco?

It wasn't quite the Watergate hearings, but the Pennsylvania Senate's inquest into the Rendell Administration's response to the Interstate 78 fiasco made for compelling television.

Courtesy of gavel to gavel coverage by the Pennsylvania Cable Network, you could almost see the beads of sweat rolling down the foreheads of top Rendell officials as they fell on their swords.

I predict at least two of the four administration honchos who testified before the Senate Thursday and the House Friday will be out of a job within the next few months. Maybe a third official will lose his job if the bad publicity continues to hound Rendell much longer.

Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler should start cleaning out his desk now. He's the obvious scapegoat.

PennDOT bungled the initial job of clearing the highway of snow and ice and was directly responsible for stranding hundreds of truckers and motorists on a desolate stretch of highway for nearly a day. Also expect to see the managers of the two PennDOT engineering districts directly responsible for clearing the problem stretch of I-78 on the unemployment line.

The other person who should be updating his resume is James R. Joseph, the head of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Joseph came across as the worst of the four panelists who faced the Senate committee Thursday. At times aloof, often tongue-tied and barely audible throughout the three-hour hearing, Joseph looked like the proverbial deer caught in the headlines.

In contrast, Col. Jeffrey Miller of the Pennsylvania State Police, came across as confident, even a bit arrogant. Miller could also get the axe, but Rendell has had a checkered history with the State Police and he may not want to create more problems by firing Miller. (Maybe a demotion and assignment to the Hamburg barracks to patrol I-78 might be in order.)

While PennDOT clearly deserves the lion's hare of the blame for the initial failure to deal with the storm and Joseph is out of his league as the state's top emergency manager, Col. Miller appears to have done the best he could with the resources he had. And therein lies the problem.

One thing is evident from the hearings is that the State Police are under-staffed and ill-equipped to deal with a weather-related emergency. Miller said he had 5 troopers working the day shift at the Hamburg barracks when the storm hit. The Hamburg barracks is responsible for patrolling a long stretch of I-78 through the entire length of Berks County. The barracks only has 1 four-wheel drive vehicle at its disposal. A second four-wheel drive vehicle was sent to the I-78 area by the Reading barracks.

Ed Rendell has a lot of explaining to do about the lack of resources for the State Police. This is a governor notorious for diverting needed resources (money and equipment) from vital state agencies to his pet projects (usually in Philadelphia.)

Col. Miller did not give satisfactory answers to reports that his troopers hung up the phones when local police and Berks County 911 officials kept calling with reports of stranded motorists. The State Police have a reputation for arrogance and so does Miller.

The only agency official who came out looking good was Maj. Gen. Jessica Wright, the Pennsylvania Adjutant General. The Pennsylvania National Guard responded well to the emergency. The only criticism of the Guard involved some Guardsmen asking stranded motorists to leave their vehicles to seek shelter. PennDOT then came along and towed the abandoned vehicles and charged the motorists $150 each.

While some of the Senators threw softball questions at the panelists or spent their allotted time making speeches, three Senators stood out during Thursday's hearing: Andrew Dinniman, Mike O'Pake and John Rafferty.

Rafferty had one of the best quips of the day when he asked Joseph if he bothered to look outside to see the weather conditions. "Are there windows in your emergency center?" Rafferty asked Joseph. It appears everyone in the state knew about the storm's intensity by watching TV or listening to the radio ... except PennDOT and emergency officials, Rafferty noted.

Rafferty also wanted a clear answer on the breakdown in the chain of command and why the governor wasn't informed of the disaster until 8 p.m. on Feb. 14. The storm began at midday on Feb. 13.

A lawyer by profession, Rafferty was tenacious and wouldn't let the bureaucrats off the hook until he got a better understanding of who makes the final decision on when an emergency is declared in Pennsylvania.

"What did Ed Rendell know and when did he know it?" is essentially what Rafferty was asking. The panelists danced around the question.

Sen. Mike O'Pake, a Berks Democrat and longtime Rendell sycophant, actually came across incredulous at the administration's failure to deal with the storm. He called it "mingboggling" and criticized the response to the crisis by committee.

"You can't respond to a crisis with a committee system," O'Pake said.

Dinniman, a Chester County Democrat, kept hammering away about the towing fees until Biehler promised that the state would "absorb" the cost.

That's the least PennDOT (with an annual budget of $6.3 billion) can do for the stranded motorists. Maybe Biehler should promise free snow removal for a year to everyone stranded on the state's highways. Oh, wait. That's how we got into this mess in the first place. OK, he can send a crew out this summer to pave their driveways — if he still has a job with the state.

The four officials who run these vital state agencies are not newcomers to the job. Biehler and Miller have been on the job since Rendell took office in 2003. Wright has commanded the Pennsylvania National Guard since February 2004. Joseph took over as PEMA director in September 2005.

At least two of them, maybe three, made their boss look really bad. Not just in Pennsylvania, but across the country. That's why they won't be around much longer.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ed Rendell's 'national embarrassment'

I've used a few choice words through the years to describe Ed Rendell's numerous shortcomings as governor of Pennsylvania. For the longest time, I was a lone voice crying in the wilderness as Rendell fooled millions of Pennsylvanians into thinking he knew what he was doing.

At least 2.5 million voters were dumb enough to re-elect Rendell to a second term. But Pennsylvanians are finally waking up from their stupor. The Rendell administration's handling of the Valentine's Day ice storm on Interstate 78 has brought many to their senses.

The smoke and mirrors that Ed Rendell used so often during his first term are gone. Pennsylvania residents now see Rendell as a charlatan who routinely fills key state positions with political cronies.

Rendell thinks that a public apology (a day late), a hastily assembled investigation and what I predict will be the sudden "retirement" of several of his top political appointees will make his problem go away.

The governor still doesn't realize how seriously the I-78 fiasco has wounded him politically.

It's one thing to lie to people about tax reform, but leaving hundreds of people stranded on your state's highways without food, water, heat or fuel for days is something you can't sugarcoat. Even by a master spinmeister like Rendell.

Less than a month into his second four-year term as governor, the people have lost faith in Ed Rendell.

Republican State Committee Chairman Robert Gleason Jr. called Rendell's leadership during the snow and ice storm deplorable, adding that "the governor's inattention and failure to act promptly led to messy roads, delays in commerce and hundreds of stranded motorists."

"Someone needs to remind the governor that he sets the direction for the entire administration, including PennDOT, and that he has the final say over how PennDOT operates, especially in response to an emergency situation," Gleason said. "The governor's failure to act more promptly should be investigated. When Pennsylvania needed someone to step up and lead, Gov. Rendell was watching a college basketball game. "

If the state can't respond to a winter snowstorm, what would happen if Pennsylvania was the target of a terrorist attack?

How could anybody survive an emergency evacuation from areas around the state's nuclear plants?

How would the state respond to a natural disaster more severe than a snowstorm in the middle of February?

The Associated Press filed a story the other day recounting some of the e-mails sent to members of the Pennsylvania Legislature about the stranded motorists. One e-mail in particular stood out. I think it speaks for most Pennsylvania residents.

The lack of a coordinated plan, according to a Pennsylvania resident, "was more than a national embarrassment."

"I am prepared to manage my household if and when the next disaster hits," wrote the Saylorsburg resident, "because I have learned that the government of Pennsylvania is completely unprepared."

The ice storm will be remembered as Rendell's personal Valentine's Day Massacre. His grand agenda for his second term died on the frozen lanes of Interstate 78 on Feb. 14-16.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

An end to teacher strikes in Pennsylvania?

State Sen. Robert J. Mellow has re-introduced legislation to outlaw school strikes.

It's a timely issue considering Pennsylvania leads the nation in teacher strikes.

Pennsylvania is the "teacher-strike capital" of the United States, according to the Bucks County-based Web site,

Each year, tens of thousands of Pennsylvania children are forced out of school by striking teachers, who also happens to be among the highest paid in the nation (Pennsylvania's average teacher salary ranking No. 4 in the nation adjusted for cost of living, according to the Web site.) Teachers also enjoy pension plans and health coverage far more generous than the private sector.

And there aren't too many jobs (other than Pennsylvania legislator) where you can enjoy a two-month vacation every summer.

Thirty-seven states prohibit teacher strikes. But that's not the case in Pennsylvania, which in recent years has experienced twice as many teacher strikes as all other states combined. That's right. Pennsylvania leads the nation in teacher strikes by a country mile.

Mellow's bill would require "last best offer" resolutions to school labor impasses.

"This plan respects and encourages the traditional contract bargaining process to work through disagreements and produce an equitable agreement," Mellow said in a press release announcing the re-introduction of his legislation. "However, it also imposes reasonable limits on the bargaining timeframe, ends labor impasses in a fair way — and most importantly prevents strikes from interfering with our children's education.

Students and their parents are the only people who suffer during teacher strikes. The teachers will get paid their full salaries because all missed days have to be made up under state law. By striking, teachers also tend to win more perks from school boards who are pressured by parents to give the teachers what they want to reopen the schools.

Students end up missing holidays and breaks or have to go to school into late June to make up for the days teachers walked off the job. This also creates a hardship for working parents who have to find child-care arrangements while teachers walk the picket line.

"For too long, students have borne the brunt of these labor disputes," Mellow said.

According to Mellow, there were 99 school districts (nearly a fifth of all public schools) operating with expired contracts in Pennsylvania. He added that impasses remain in seven of the eight school districts where strikes occurred in the 2006-07 school year. Those strikes affected over 20,000 students.

Mellow's plan, Senate Bill 20, would set into law an eight-month negotiating timeline. If the teachers' union or the school board fails to resolve their contract differences through a variety of means-including an impartial arbitration panel — each side would submit a "last best offer" to the county's President Common Pleas Judge.

The judge would then be required to select one of the two last best offers. The judge's decision would be final and binding.

"My bill fosters settlement rather than confrontation," Mellow said. "It makes negotiation — not posturing — the main focus of the settlement process. The plan promotes accountability, responsibility and decision-making."

Mellow's plan is similar to a law in Connecticut. Based on experience from that state, only 10 percent of impasses reach arbitration and only 2 percent of all contract disputes go the entire way through the process, according to Mellow.

"The process outlined in my plan is reasonable, rational and fair to all sides," Mellow said. "The parties to the dispute have ample opportunity to settle amicably before the judge makes a final ruling. This proposal deserves to be considered."

Mellow, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, has introduced anti-strike legislation in the past, but it has never passed. The problem? Teachers' unions are among the biggest contributors to political campaigns. Teachers, through their unions, also employ lobbyists to keep lawmakers in line.

The Bucks County-based citizens group is not endorsing Mellow's bill because it believes the measure doesn't go far enough to prevent teacher strikes.

It's up to taxpayers and voters again to take up the fight. Whether you have children in public schools or not, this is an important bill that deserves consideration — without undue pressure from teachers' unions and their lobbyists.

Contact your local state legislator and tell them you support efforts to ban teacher strikes in Pennsylvania. The title of "teacher-strike capital" of the U.S. is something Pennsylvania needs to shed as soon as possible.

Young liberal comes to her senses

A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a progressive Democrat, and among other liberal ideals, she was very much in favor of higher taxes to support more government programs. In other words, redistribution of wealth.

She was deeply ashamed that her father was a staunch Republican, a feeling she openly expressed. Based on the lectures she attended and the occasional chat with professors, she felt her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his.

One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on "the rich" and the need for more government programs to help the working class. The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth, and she indicated so to her father.

He responded by asking how she was doing in school. Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA. She let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting she was taking difficult courses and was constantly studying, leaving her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend and didn't really have many college friends because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, "How is your friend Cindy doing?" She replied, "Cindy is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus; college is a blast for her. She's always invited to all the parties, and lots of times she doesn't even show up for classes because she's too hung over."

Her father then asked, "Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA. Certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA."

The daughter, visibly shocked, angrily fired back. "That's crazy — how would that be fair? I've worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, a lot of hard work. Cindy has done next to nothing toward her degree. She parties while I worked my tail off!"

The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently to his daughter, "Welcome to the Republican Party."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Berks County school board stands with taxpayers

David Baldinger of the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition informs me that the Governor Mifflin School Board (just outside of Reading) in Berks County has passed a resolution condemning Act 1, the tax shift scheme cooked up by Gov. Ed Rendell and the Pennsylvania Legislature last year.

The resolution is similar to one approved in December by the Pennsbury School Board in Bucks County, according to Baldinger.

I applaud the members of the Governor Mifflin School Board for their courageous act and urge school boards across Pennsylvania to stand up for taxpayers in their districts.

The PTCC (and the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations)
are asking voters to reject all Act 1 tax shift referendums on the May 15 ballot.

For more information about the growing taxpayer movement in Pennsylvania, go to

Letters protesting Act 1 are starting to come in to The Mercury and its sister newspapers. See my previous post about the campaign to repeal Act 1 spearheaded by several area newspapers.

Here is the text of the Governor Mifflin resolution:


FEBRUARY 19, 2007

WHEREAS, the Pennsylvania Legislature is unable to carry out its Constitutional responsibilities and is crippling school districts and property owners through its inaction on property tax reform, and

WHEREAS, Act 1 does not provide property tax reform and

WHEREAS, the disproportionate rebates that may become available under Act 1 are distributed in a discriminatory manner by favoring property owners with low school property tax bills and are not distributed equitably within or among school districts, and in fact favor major cities over the balance of the state, and

WHEREAS, the shift to a higher local earned income tax under Act 1 in exchange for an offsetting reduction in property tax is not tax reform and does not solve inequitable funding across all school districts, and

WHEREAS, stressed school districts that have insufficient assessed value to support education also lack a sufficient earned income tax base, rendering the shift to local earned income tax useless in solving funding inequities, and

WHEREAS, Act 1 exacerbates funding inequities, as any rebates that may become available, plus a shift in local income tax, if approved, result in the greatest reductions provided to school districts whereby the tax burden is the least and the smallest reductions provided to districts where the tax burden is the greatest.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Governor Mifflin Board of School Directors, STRONGLY URGES that the Legislature immediately repeal Act 1, and be it further

RESOLVED, that the undersigned Governor Mifflin School Directors STRONGLY URGE the Legislature IMMEDIATELY begin working on true property tax reform.

Board members signing the resolution: Joy Buchanan, Pam Cala,
Ronald Dunkelberger Jr., Heather Kendall, Jill Koestel, Gayle Pretz,
Kimberly Siegel, James Ulrich, Brent Worley

Hillary Clinton visits a school

Hillary Clinton goes to a primary school in New York to give her views on the world situation. After her talk she offers to answer questions.

One little boy puts up his hand. The Senator asks him what his name is.

"Kenneth," the boy says.

"And what is your question, Kenneth?" Sen. Clinton asks.

"I have three questions: First, whatever happened to the medical health care plan you were paid to develop during your husband's eight years in the office as President?

Second, why would you run for President after your husband shamed the office?

Third, whatever happened to all those things you took when you left the White House?"

Just then the bell rings for recess.

Hillary Clinton informs the kids she will continue the session after recess.

When they resume, Hillary says, "Okay, where were we? Oh, that's right, question time. Who has a question?"

A different little boy puts his hand up.

Hillary point him out and asks for his name.

"Larry," the boy says.

"And what is your question, Larry?," Sen. Clinton asks.

"I have five questions: The first three are the same ones Kenneth asked earlier. Fourth, why did the recess bell go off 20 minutes early? Fifth, what happened to Kenneth?"

Monday, February 19, 2007

Join the campaign to repeal Act 1

The experts said it couldn't be done.

The Pennsylvania Legislature would never repeal the pay raise its members gave themselves at 2 a.m. on July 7, 2005, according to people in the know, including political science professors, columnists and assorted pundits.

The Mercury decided to launch "Operation Giveback" anyway. In the months after the pay raise vote, The Mercury asked its readers to sign letters demanding the Legislators repeal the pay raise. The grassroots effort collected 10,000 letters from Pottstown-area residents. The letters were hand-delivered to the state Capitol.

The rest, as they say, was history. The Legislature repealed the pay raise. The only person to vote against the repeal, Mike Veon, would lose in the following election cycle. Fifty-five legislators who supported the pay raise would be tossed out by voters or decided to retire rather than face the voters.

Legislators have told me that the delivery of 10,000 letters from voters had more of an impact on Legislative leaders (to push for the repeal) than all the newspaper editorials and columns and blog postings combined.

Can it happen again?

The Legislature passed Act 1 of 2006, a travesty disguised as tax relief. Gov. Rendell signed it into law. The majority of Pennsylvania taxpayers will suffer under Act 1 — unless we can persuade the Legislature to repeal it.

To that end, The Mercury is once again asking readers to flood the Legislature with mail. The editorial below (which explains the shortcomings of Act 1) gives all the details. It ran in Sunday's edition of The Mercury. A similar appeal was published in our sister papers, The Times Herald of Norristown and the Daily Local News in West Chester. We hope other newspapers will join the campaign.

Read the highlights from the editorial below originally published in The Mercury and send in your letter.

We (the people) did in 2005. We can do it again.

Join us in demanding legislators take another look at school tax reform

First there was Act 72, and now there is Act 1, the tax reform scams of 2005 and 2006.

As area school districts are now preparing their ballot referendums to comply with Act 1, the discontent with this 2006 attempt at tax reform is becoming more evident.

The law does nothing to reform school funding in Pennsylvania and serves only to take taxes out of one pocket instead of the other without providing meaningful relief for the working homeowner.

The law has three main parts. It attempts to limit future tax increases by subjecting districts to a referendum on any tax increase above the inflation index and on building projects. It distributes money earned from slot parlors to schools for property tax reduction, and it forces districts to offer a tax-shifting referendum on May 15.

But the measure fails on all three fronts.

The legislature has in its power many ways to limit school spending or to help districts control spending through prevailing wage exemptions and consolidated purchasing power. But a school district exploding with growth cannot stop building schools or paying for additional teachers.
Giving voters a false sense of control of spending is irresponsible legislation.

The distribution of money from slots is a promise yet to be realized. And it also depends on people losing money in order for a tax break.

The tax-shifting referendum is the biggest scam of all.

Districts are able to word their own ballot question, basing it on whether they want to propose an increase in personal income tax or earned income tax. They must also determine the amount of the increase, ranging from .5 percent to 2.5 percent, for the ballot question.

Citizen tax study commissions — also a requirement of Act 1 — have been making recommendations to all school boards in recent weeks and their reports reveal the problems with the law.

The majority of renters and working class families will end up paying more in taxes under Act 1.

If that's not a scam, we don’t know what it is.

As with the pay-raise debacle in 2005, newspapers are taking the public's frustration with Act 1 to Harrisburg with a demand that legislators get back to work on a true solution to the problem of relying on local property taxes to fund public schools.

We ask you to join us in asking Gov. Ed Rendell and our state legislators to take a hard look at school funding and craft a plan that truly reforms the system of taxation and takes the burden off local school districts and the working-class homeowner.

They tried last year with a months-long special session on tax reform, and the result was Act 1. Clearly, the effort failed, and lawmakers need to try again.

If you're opposed to Act 1, please write to: Operation Tax Scam, The Mercury, 24 N. Hanover St., Pottstown, PA 19464.

We will collect letters sent to us as part of a campaign and forward them to legislators.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Rendell takes the blame ... a day late

At last, something stuck to "Teflon" Ed Rendell.

One day after "Survivor Pennsylvania" played itself out on a desolate stretch of Interstate 78, the governor held a press conference Friday to announce he will take full responsibility for the Valentine's Day disaster that stranded hundreds of motorists on a 50-mile stretch of what should be renamed the "Road to Nowhere."

Rendell's public apology came a day late, but at least the governor admitted what everyone else already figured out — Pennsylvania's transportation and emergency response crews screwed up big time, leaving hundreds of unsuspecting motorists deserted on an impassable highway without food, water or heat for an entire day.

As the governor who takes credit for everything good that happens in the state, Rendell had to accept the blame for the monumental failure of so many state agencies.

"It is not a good day for state government," Rendell said. "As the chief executive of the Commonwealth, I take full responsibility for what appears to be a complete breakdown of communications and personally apologize to anyone who was stranded."

A few years back I gave Rendell the title of "worst governor in the United States." He's still holding on to that title but I have to (grudgingly) applaud the governor for finally stepping up to the plate.

"The people who managed the efforts work for me, and this was an inadequate and unacceptable response," Rendell said. "I am responsible for this."

That's a whole lot more than Gov. Katheen Blanco was willing to say after Hurricane Katrina ravaged her home state of Louisiana.

In addition to saying he's sorry, Rendell has promised an independent investigation of the "Nightmare on I-78."

Rendell said he contracted James Lee Witt, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to perform an independent review of the state's response to the highway mess. That's in addition to the investigation planned by the Governor's Office of Administration.

The governor admitted there was a "communications breakdown" among his office and various state agencies when stranded motorists began calling for help around 8 p.m. on Wednesday. Many of the people calling for help were left high and dry on Interstate 78 into the afternoon and evening hours Thursday.

As the magnitude of the crisis became clear Thursday, Rendell mobilized the Pennsylvania National Guard to rush food, blankets, water and gasoline to stranded motorists they were able to reach. But for hundreds of truckers and motorists, the state’s rescue effort was too little, too late.

Rendell noted in his press conference that emergency management officials responded well to past weather disasters, including the massive flooding last spring.

"The same people who performed brilliantly in response to recent flooding in northeastern Pennsylvania had significant mistakes in judgment during this storm," Rendell said. "There are no excuses, though. I intend to find out what went wrong and ensure that this never happens again."

I'm not buying the "never happens again" part. Rendell has made too many promises in the past four years that he hasn't kept. And this was not the "Storm of the Century." PennDOT should have been able to handle few inches of snow and ice in the middle of winter.

It's up to the independent investigators and the Pennsylvania General Assembly to hold Rendell accountable for the fiasco.

Four lawmakers whose districts include parts of Interstate 78 sent a letter Friday to Allen Biehler, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and Col. Jeffrey Miller, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. These two agencies appear to have dropped the ball regarding the Valentine's Day storm and the response.

The letter from Rep. Douglas Reichley, R-134th Dist., Rep. David Argall, R-124th Dist., Rep. Paul Clymer, R-145th Dist., and Rep. Carl Mantz, R-187th Dist., makes it clear that lawmakers will demand answers during upcoming Appropriations Committee hearings when PennDOT and the State Police will come looking for more money.

"The approaching storm was predicted days ahead of time, but was there enough advance planning, or was there a breakdown in communication?" the letter states. "And why did this dangerous situation persist so long? Were state police or PennDOT personnel unnecessarily diverted to areas of the Commonwealth less catastrophically affected by the storm, such as Philadelphia? Are enough maintenance sheds and state police barracks located on these stretches of largely rural interstates? Were too many police and maintenance workers allocated to other areas of the state?"

Plenty of legitimate questions that demand answers from Rendell and his political appointees.

And this just in ...

Three Pennsylvania Congressmen have promised to examine the state's response to the Valentine's Day storm.

Reps. Jim Gerlach, R-6th Dist., Tim Holden, D-17th Dist., and Charlie Dent, R-15th Dist., all members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced Friday evening they will take a look at the response to the Valentine's Day winter storm that shut down stretches of Interstate 78.

The three congressmen will convene a meeting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at the Upper Macungie Township Building in Lehigh County.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ed Rendell's Katrina moment

"How could you operate a state like this?"

Good question from a Connecticut motorist stuck on a Pennsylvania highway for nearly a day without food, water, heat, fuel or information of when help might arrive.

Welcome to Ed Rendell's Pennsylvania. Travel at your own risk. Pack your survival gear because you can't depend on any help from the state government.

Pennsylvania made the national headlines. Unfortunately, the headlines read something like this: "Hundreds of furious motorists stranded for hours on Pa. highway" and "Nightmare on I-78"

The stories detailed the harrowing experience of motorists trapped without food, water, medicine or fuel on one of the state's most heavily traveled highways. The storm hit early Valentine's Day, stranding truckers and motorists on an icy stretch of Interstate 78, but state officials were slow to respond. At one point, the interstate was a 50-mile long parking lot.

Hundreds of travelers, many from across the country, were still stuck on the road into Thursday afternoon and evening. Gov. Ed Rendell eventually called out the National Guard to deliver food, water, baby supplies and fuel to the stranded motorists.

The state's slow response to a potentially life-threatening emergency has opened officials to widespread criticism.

"How could you operate a state like this? It's totally disgusting," Eugene Coleman, of Hartford, Conn., told the Associated Press.

Coleman, who is hyperglycemic, was trapped for 20 hours while on his way home from visiting his terminally ill mother in Georgia, along with his girlfriend and pregnant daughter, the wire service reported. They had no food or water for about 18 hours and Coleman said his legs were swollen.

"God forbid somebody gets really stuck on the highway and has a life-threatening emergency. That person would have died," Coleman told the AP.

Rendell initially blamed the inability of his transportation department or emergency management officials to deal with the ice storm on "Mother Nature." At least that's what his spokeswoman had to say.

"At this point, Mother Nature is the only one to blame," spokesperson Kate Philips said.

Hmmmm ... I'm not buying that excuse, Kate. This is the middle of Pennsylvania in the middle of winter, not a Third World country.

I'm more inclined to place the blame squarely on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and Gov. Ed "Teflon" Rendell.

Consider the following:
  • Pennsylvania consistently ranks at the top of the list of the worst roads in the country.
  • TV weather guys and gals have been predicting the storm for 10 days.
  • PennDOT has been sitting around for months waiting for something to do during an unusually mild winter.
  • PennDOT officials apparently decided not to start plowing I-78 in the early hours of the snowstorm.
  • Problems on I-78 began early Wednesday, but continued and got worse into Thursday morning.
  • One report said a PennDOT crew re-opened a closed ramp to I-78 even though hundreds of vehicles were already trapped on the highway, leading other motorists to end up stuck on the roadway.
Rendell's response is reminiscent of Bush Administration after Hurricane Katrina.

A 50-mile backup on one of your major roads is not something you blame on "Mother Nature." It's a fiasco that could have been avoided if state officials weren't asleep at the wheel.

"It's February, it's a snowstorm," Gay Elwell of Easton, told The Morning Call in Allentown after sitting in the jam from 1:30 p.m. to after 9 p.m. Wednesday. "They had plenty of time to get ready for it. It boggles my mind that the traffic is tied up for eight hours and I don't know why."

State police did not close all the entrance ramps to I-78 until around 5 p.m. Thursday, more than 24 hours after cars and trucks started getting caught, the AP reported. Officials could not provide an explanation for why it took so long.

And this from an AP report: "Why would they have that exit open if they were just going to let us sit there?" said a crying Deborah Miller. Her 5-year-old son was trapped in the car with her, running a 103-degree fever from strep throat.

Rendell said he will order a review of various state agencies and their performance once the crisis is over, but the governor's office announced Thursday it was satisfied with state government's response to the storm, Philips said.

Ask the hundreds of stranded motorists and their worried family members if they're "satisfied with the state's performance."

PennDOT, the National Guard and the emergency management agency were all doing "exactly what they're supposed to do in the time they were supposed to," Rendell spokeswoman Philips said, sounding a lot like former FEMA Director Mike Brown.

A full-blown investigation of the Rendell Administration's handling of the storm is in order.

Republican State Rep. Doug Reichley, whose district covers parts of Berks and Lehigh counties, said the failure to deal with the storm "demands an explanation."

"I think we need to bring all the facts together to see what happened," Reichley said. "Was this a breakdown in communication? Why did this dangerous situation persist so long? We want to ensure this type of calamity does not happen again."

No more free lunches?

Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch in Pennsylvania?

If you're a member of the Pennsylvania Legislature, you've enjoyed a free lunch (and breakfasts and dinner) for years.

Not only do legislators get $148 a day for meals and lodging every day they're in session in Harrisburg, but party leaders have been ordering catered lunches for those hard-working legislators who can't leave their desk to enjoy lunch in a fancy restaurant with a lobbyist (who always picks up the tab.)

House Majority Leader Bill "Amnesia" DeWeese, who recently forgot to mention he handed out $2 million in bonus money to staffers, has vowed to stop buying lunch for Democratic Caucus members.

By "buying" lunch, I am being facetious. DeWeese sent the bill for the lunches to you and me (the beleaguered Pennsylvania taxpayer). And how much does it cost to feed the 102-member Democratic Caucus? Up to $6,300 a day, according to published accunts. We're not talking about the value menu at McDonald's here.

DeWeese's decision to discontinue the meals was among his efforts "to change the way things are being done in Harrisburg," DeWeese's mouthpiece told the Harrisburg Patriot-News. Let me get this straight. It's OK to hand out $2 million in secret bonuses to staffers, but reform to DeWeese means he will put his foot down when it comes to $6,300?

DeWeese's spokesma Tom Andrews couldn't say how much money the Democratic caucus would save by ending the catered lunches.

House Republicans also have provided catered lunches for their members, and the two caucuses spent nearly $200,000 in the 1997-98 legislative session, according to a Patriot-News review of the practice in 1999.

Imagine that. Spending $200,000 for catered meals for people who already collect $148 a day in meal money. The political aristocracy is alive and well in Pennsylvania. And the monarchy continues to sustain itself on the backs of the peasants.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Greedy judges, not low pay, undermine our courts

It appears Pennsylvania judges aren't the only ones whining about their pay.

Federal judges are now making noise about their paychecks. Maybe they should learn from Pennsylvania judges' experiences when it comes to asking taxpayers to shell out more money.

If you'll recall, the infamous July 2005 middle-of-the-night pay raise for Pennsylvania politicians and judges was hatched up by Gov. Ed Rendell, legislative leaders (most of whom have been voted out of office) and Ralph Cappy, chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Cappy's court eventually ruled that the way the legislators took the pay raise (something called unvouchered expenses) was unconstitutional, but restored the 10 percent pay raises for themselves and 1,200 other state and local judges. And they also tied future pay increases to salaries of federal judges.

The backlash against Pennsylvania judges began in 2005 when Russell Nigro failed to win his retention re-election for another 10-year term on the state's highest court. The other judge on the ballot that year, Sandra Schultz Newman, narrowly won her retention vote, but she ended up resigning from the court in 2006, citing the constant criticism of judges by Pennsylvania residents.

Pennsylvania voters will get another chance to send a clear message to greedy judges when they get to pick three new judges for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this November. Justice Thomas Saylor is seeking retention and two vacancies on the court (Nigro and Newman) must also be filled. Voters can send a strong message to Cappy (who won't face voters until 2009) that greed is not a virtue when you decided to wear the judicial robes.

Replacing three of the court's seven members would send a strong message to Harrisburg that Pennsylvania taxpayers are tired of being fleeced by politicians, whether they are members of the executive, legislative or judicial branch.

At the same time Pennsylvania judges have been whining about their pay, members of the U.S. Supreme Court have been lobbying for bigger paychecks. Chief Justice John Roberts has made several public pleas for higher pay, calling the lack of a big payday for federal judges a "constitutional crisis."

On Wednesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy told members of a Senate committee that Congress has disregarded judicial pay, creating morale problems among judges and threatening to undermine judicial independence.

The current salary level for judges "is insufficient to attract the finest members" of the legal profession to accept appointments to the bench, Kennedy said during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to the Associated Press.

Federal district court judges are paid $165,200 annually; appeals court judges make $175,100; associate justices of the Supreme Court earn $203,000; the chief justice gets $212,100.

Kennedy said "$160,000 sounds like a lot of money to the average American, and it is. But it is insufficient to attract the finest members of the practicing bar to the bench," according to the Associated Press.

There's no argument that lawyers can make a lot more money in private practice than they can serving on the bench. But I challenge Kennedy to find one sitting federal judge who took the job because of the money. And who says the highest paid person is always the most qualified person?

If Roberts and Kennedy agreed to serve on the Supreme Court because they were expecting a big payday, they are fools. Whatever happened to the concept of public service? Nobody held a gun to Roberts and Kennedy and forced them to join the Supreme Court.

Roberts and Kennedy knew what the salary was when they accepted their current positions. They also knew that they would have lifetime tenure and an opportunity to create a legacy for themselves. (And annual financial disclosures show that most of the justices on the Supreme Court have net worths of more than $1 million.)

If Roberts and Kennedy think they can make more money in the private sector, then by all means, they should resign from the court today and join a corporate law firm.

There's nothing in the Constitution that says a Supreme Court justice has to stay on the court into their 90s or until they die in office. They are welcome to step down any time they want and I guarantee there will be thousands of other applicants waiting in line to take their place on the court.

Nobody runs for president of the United States because of the salary. The same goes for the Senate, the House or the bench. Those positions provide intangible rewards that cannot be measured in dollars.

Judges are free to write books and give lectures to supplement their income.

If things are that tight at the Roberts and Kennedy households, maybe their wives could get a job, like most American households, where both spouses have to work to make ends meet.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Finally, a politician I can respect

State Sen. Rob Wonderling, a Republican who represents the 24th District (parts of Bucks, Lehigh, Montgomery, and Northampton counties), recently sent an op-ed piece to area newspapers.

Reading the column, "What I'd like to change in Harrisburg," you might think Wonderling was a "one of us," a citizen activist or a political blogger.

You have to admire Wonderling's courage to admit that Harrisburg is in need of major changes. Despite all the reform talk, I get the feeling that a lot of veteran politicians wouldn't mind if the scrutiny would go away and they could return to business as usual.

Wonderling, who began his second term in January, is a rare breed in Harrisburg. He actually wants to help the people who elected him, not line his own pockets.

I wish Wonderling was my state senator. I'm stuck with a political hack named Mike O'Pake, who is referred to by most of his constituents these days as Mike O'Fake.

Here's list of changes Wonderling would like to see. (And I agree with every one of them.)

· Lower property taxes for all Pennsylvanians.

· Privatize the state Liquor Control Board and use some of the proceeds to help provide health insurance for all Pennsylvanians.

· Lower the fees that senior citizens have to pay for their hunting and fishing licenses.

· Ban smoking in public places. (The key phrase here is "in public places" where non-smokers are subjected to second-hand smoke. If you want to smoke like a chimney in your house or your car or the middle of the woods, go right ahead.)

· Create a statewide electronic prescription drug program so people can safely and quickly purchase medications.

· Make the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency more accountable to taxpayers.

· Apply a holistic approach to transportation.

· Usher in an era of ownership, because a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit will keep our economy strong.

· Bring common sense back into our legal system. Pass lawsuit reform legislation that 43 other states in America have passed.

· Hold state spending increases to the rate of inflation, setting aside half of the surplus revenues in the state's Rainy Day Fund.

· Roll back the double tax on cell phones by repealing the gross receipts tax.

· Reduce the Personal Income Tax for families and small businesses.

· Provide assistance to elderly and disabled residents for technology that gives them mobility and independence in their daily lives.

· Make higher education more affordable.

· Bring competition to schools by promoting charter schools and alternatives in education.

· Create a cancer drug depository so patients can get the medicines they need at a reasonable cost.

· Truly promote alternative energy.

· Finally, hold our politicians more accountable for their actions.

If you'd like to offer encouragement to Wonderling for taking a proactive approach to cleaning up the mess in Harrisburg, his e-mail address is

6,000 Tony Phyrillas fans can't be wrong

I've been posting opinions on this site since January 2005, but it didn't occur to me to start keeping track of how many visitors I get at this blog until December 2006. What can I say? I'm at least two years behind the curve on technology.

Since installing a site counter on Dec. 1, I've recorded 6,150 visitors to this blog. That's pretty good.

For those who don't recognize the pop culture reference, the title of today's post is a takeoff on "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong," the title of a 1959 compilation album of Elvis Presley's early hits. (I'm a big Elvis fan).

And to show you how suspicious I am about technology (I know "The Matrix" is real), I installed a second counter on this site just to verify the numbers on the first counter. And the numbers are very close, so there must be something to it.

Another interesting number is 161,325, which is this site's ranking at, a Web site that keeps track of the tens of millions of blogs and activity on those sites. You may not think that having the 161,325th most visited site in the blogosphere is a big deal, but considering there are 57 million blogs on the Internet, being in the top 175,000 is pretty good. (And I've moved up about 20,000 spots in the past three months, so I'm shooting for No. 1).

I don't know if these numbers mean anything, but our society is obsessed with rankings (TV ratings, box office totals, opinion polls). The Internet, and blogs in particular, has leveled the playing field in many areas, including politics. Candidate A can spend $1 million to get elected but could still lose to Candidate B, who can reach thousands of voters through the Internet and can get a tremendous boost from the blogging community.

I'd like to thank everyone who visits this site on a regular basis and takes a few minutes to read my views. I don't have a monopoly on answers, but I like to think I contribute to the dialogue for improving our state and country.

And spread the word to your friends and neighbors about this site, which I update at least five times a week. There's 161,324 blogs ahead of me that I have to pass.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Follow the money

The phrase "Follow the money" entered the American lexicon in the days of Watergate when the mysterious "Deep Throat" advised Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward to look closer at the money trail that linked the Watergate burglars all the way to the White House.

"Follow the money" is now the mantra of the growing "bonusgate" scandal involving the Pennsylvania Legislature.

The initial news that legislative leaders handed out $3.6 million in secret bonuses to staff members was shocking enough. But as reporters began looking closer at which staffers got the most money and compared the list of recipients with donors to legislative campaigns, it became clear we were dealing with an elaborate conspiracy to divert taxpayer money into the campaign coffers of top Pennsylvania politicians.

A scan of weekend headlines from around the state shows that "bonusgate" is not going to go away any time soon.

"Attorney general reviews bonuses" was a lead story in the Harrisburg Patriot News. The story by Brett Lieberman says that Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, while not launching a full-blown criminal investigation, is concerned about the growing scandal. The size and basis of awards to House staffers look questionable, Corbett told the newspaper.

Corbett, a Republican who wants to be Pennsylvania's next governor, has been keeping a low profile since "bonusgate" broke a couple of weeks ago, but this is no time for the state's top law enforcement officer to sit on the sidelines.

Corbett needs to devote all the resources of his office to investigate the Legislature. (It wouldn't hurt his political ambition if he was the man who exposed questionable practices involving taxpayer money).

While both Democrats and Republicans handed out bonus money to staffers, the bulk of the payments came from House Democrats. And who was calling the shots the past two years? Two familiar names: Reps. Bill DeWeese and Mike Veon. The former is now House majority leader, the latter was the No. 2 Democrat in the House until he was tossed out by voters in November).

The heart of Corbett's investigation should be determening how and why House Democrats spent $1.8 million on bonuses in 2006 (an election year) when the very same party bosses spent only $435,000 on bonuses in 2005. It just doesn't add up.

Lieberman's full story can be read online at

Another interesting headline over the weekend ("Top bonus recipients aided top Dems") was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which did its own analysis of "bonusgate." Reporters Tracie Mauriello and Jon Schmitz found that 80 of the 100 largest raises went to staff who worked for or gave money to the DeWeese and Veon campaigns. Again, follow the money.

Nobody is saying DeWeese or Veon broke any laws and the two veteran politicians have repeatedly said there was no connection between the bonuses and election work.

But something sure smells fishy when "80 of the 100 Democratic state House staffers awarded the biggest bonuses in their government paychecks last year either donated money to or worked on the political campaigns of the two powerful Democratic leaders who controlled the bonuses," according to the Post-Gazette article.

The full story is online at

Another headline from the weekend, "Political bonuses under fire," ran in the York Daily Record under a story written by Richard Fellinger of the newspaper’s Harrisburg bureau.

This from Fellinger’s investigation: "The Daily Record/Sunday News analyzed staff bonuses and expenditures from campaign-finance reports and found dozens of examples of government staffers who received big bonuses and a salary or reimbursement check from a key campaign."

While the state Attorney General and newspapers are cautions in making any direct direct link between the bonuses and what the staffers did with the money, citizen activists are calling it as they see it.

Watchdog groups such as Common Cause of Pennsylvania are already troubled by the bonus revelations, Fellinger reported. "What has to be learned is whether these bonuses were simply a laundering operation to pay staffers who took leave without pay (to work on campaigns)," Common Cause executive director Barry Kauffman told Fellinger.

Fellinger's full story is online at

Brad Bumstead, the statehouse reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, also tackles "bonusgate" in his weekly column, which hints at another possible criminal investigation.

"There's been a lot of whispering up here that this could potentially turn into a criminal problem," Bumstead writes. "The attorney general and the U.S. attorney in Harrisburg have been asked to investigate."

Bumstead also quotes Pennsylvania's resident gadfly.

One person asking for a probe, Harrisburg activist Gene Stilp, told Bumstead: "Whoever gets to the prosecutor's office first gets immunity. We need someone to regain their integrity and go down and visit the state or federal prosecutor. Then we'll see it start to collapse."

Bumstead's full column is online at

Is the press making too much of the "bonusgate" scandal? Time will tell. Let's not forget that what began as a bungled burglary at the Watergate hotel led to the impeachment and resignation of a sitting U.S. president. Who knows how far "bonusgate" goes and who will end up paying the price?

Friday, February 09, 2007

N.J. delivers property tax relief

I'm tired of hearing Pennsylvania politicians say cutting property taxes is too difficult for them.

Gov. Ed Rendell and legislative leaders from both parties have said often that property tax reform has been the No. 1 priority in Harrisburg for 30 years, but nobody has been able to solve the problem.

Rendell and the Legislature are full of baloney. Property taxes can be cut. Pennsylvania politicians simply lack the will to do the job.

If you want results, look no further than neighboring New Jersey. In less than one year, Gov. Jon Corzine and the New Jersey legislature have come up with a plan to deliver property tax relief to nearly all of the state's residents.

I should also note that New Jersey has far fewer legislators than Pennsylvania (120 in N.J. compared to 253 in Pennsylvania) and they are paid less than their counterparts in Pennsylvania.

Rendell has been playing a shell game on property taxes for more than four years now. He's managed to fool enough voters with promises of tax relief to get himself re-elected to a second term.

I've never been a fan of Jon Corzine, the multi-millionaire businessman who bought his way into public office. After Corzine became bored serving in the U.S. Senate, he took his millions and purchased the governor's seat in New Jersey.

But I have to tip my hat to Corzine. As a candidate, he promised to cut New Jersey property taxes, which are even higher than property taxes in Pennsylvania.

In less than a year, Corzine kept his word. He is about to sign a $2.3 billion property tax relief bill for New Jersey residents. About 2 million N.J. residents will see tax breaks averaging $1,051 under the tax-relief plan. State officials predict that 95 percent of the New Jersey households will benefit from the tax cuts.

Contrast that with Gov. Rendell, Corzine's fellow tax-and-spend liberal across the Delaware River.

Candidate Rendell promised to cut property taxes for all Pennsylvania residents by 30 percent. That was in 2002. Gov. Rendell reneged on the promise in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Safely re-elected to a second term, Rendell is now talking about raising — not lowering — taxes.

Even his proposal to raise the sales tax in order to cut property taxes is smoke and mirrors. Only one-third of the money from the increased sales tax would go to property tax relief. The rest would feed Ed Spendell's enormous appetite for government spending.

Rendell's parlor tricks with Pennsylvania's budget have caught the attention of Americans for Tax Reform, a non-partisan coalition of taxpayers and taxpayer groups in Washington, D.C.

"Maybe next year, Gov. 'Spendell' should just use his budget as a list of taxes he does NOT want to raise," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "That would probably save his staff some time and paper."

In addition to his 2002 boast that he could cut property taxes standing on his head, Rendell promised that Act 72 would help lower property taxes. It never happened.

Rendell promised that the approval of casino gambling in Pennsylvania would lower property taxes. More empty words.

Rendell promised that Act 1 would lead to lower taxes. Another lie.

Now Rendell is promising to cut property taxes if the lawmakers approve a 16.7-percent increase in the state sales tax. If he lied to us in each of his first four years in office, why would anyone think Rendell will keep his promise?

That is a question voters need to pose to the 102 Democrats in the state House and the 21 Democrats in the state Senate. How far are these lemmings willing to follow Rendell? Especially when Ed Spendell's policies will sink Pennsylvania into a fiscal crisis.

Pennsylvania voters need to make sure their state legislators understand that if they vote for any more Rendell tax increases, they will be out of a job in 2008.

Flying high on Air Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House and self-appointed national plumber, ("Drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.") may be preparing for a crash landing on a runway called liberal hypocrisy.

If you haven't been following the growing scandal, Madame Pelosi is not content with the private jet U.S. taxpayers provide her to jaunt between San Francisco and Washington, D.C. She wants a big plane. A really big plane. A Boeing 757 to be specific. A plane that costs taxpayers $15,000 an hour to fly.

The previous Speaker, Dennis Hastert, was satisfied with the 12-seat Gulfstream 3 jet the government provided to carry him between Washington, D.C., and his home district in Illinois. And Hastert is a really big guy.

The petite Pelosi apparently needs more leg room. The military version of the Boeing 757-200 can sit between 175-190 passengers. Pelosi has lots of grandchildren, but how much room do those kids need? Pelosi can take dozens of staffers, friends, family members and political supporters on non-stop, coast-to-cost flights.

And this new plane is way better than first class. "The planes are staffed with stewards who serve meals and tend an open bar," according to the Washington Times.

According to the D.C. Examiner, revving up the new luxury plane "to fly the speaker home to San Francisco, drop her off, and fly back and get her, would cost taxpayers around $300,000 — while round-trip commercial fares start at $233."

The larger plane requested by Speaker Pelosi would include 42 business class seats, a fully enclosed state room, an entertainment center, a private bed, state-of-the-art communications system and a crew of 16, according to CNN.

First-class air travel is just the beginning of the ammenities the political aristocracy in Washington provides for itself.

When on the ground, Pelosi is driven around by a government-owned SUV that is exempt from the gas tax when used for business related travel. Pelosi not only doesn’t pay anything to get around, but she doesn’t even pay the gas tax that millions of Americans pay each day. This is the same Nancy Pelosi who voted to raise gasoline taxes at least five times.

CNN reported that Pelosi recently requested use of a military plane to attend a retreat in Williamsburg, Va., less than 150 miles (or a two-hour drive) from Washington, D.C.

Republicans on the Hill got a chance last Friday to dig into Pelosi when the San Francisco liberal appeared before the House Science Committee to drum up support for fighting global warming.

Not only does Pelosi’s luxury Boeing 757 cost taxpayers about $15 million a year, but it certainly doesn't do anything for keeping the air between Washington, D.C., and California any cleaner. What would Al Gore say? Isn’t Pelosi contributing to global warming?

Here's some quotable quotes about the Pelosi plane flap:

"The jet that Pelosi has produces 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide an hour, far more than the previous speaker used," said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

"By commandeering a huge government plane for her personal transport to California, this is totally contradictory to the alarm bells we heard her ringing in the Science Committee just a few hours ago," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.

"I do not question the imperative of providing for the safety of the speaker of the United States House of Representatives," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. "On the subject of whether this is a silly debate, I think it is silly to question the right of the minority to question public expenditures."

Granted, a case can be made for protecting national leaders in the post-9/11 world, but a personal jumbo jet for the Speaker of the House is over the top. Pelosi is a multi-millionaire who can afford to make her own travel arrangements.

It's another example of how politicians — regardless of party affiliation — fleece the taxpayer. The Democrats have replaced the Republicans, but the taxpayers are still losers.

It's time for Pelosi to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. It's time for the mainstream media to start telling the truth to the American public about the big money liberals who control the Democratic Party.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Corzine delivers, Rendell keeps promising

I've never been a fan of New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, the mercenary politician who buys his way into public office. After he got bored serving in the U.S. Senate, Corzine took his millions and purchased the governor's office in New Jersey.

But I have to tip my hat to Corzine. As a candidate, he promised to cut New Jersey property taxes, which are even higher than property taxes in Pennsylvania.

After one year in office, Corzine kept his word. He is about to sign a $2.3 billion property tax relief bill for New Jersey residents. About 2 million N.J. residents will see tax breaks averaging $1,051 under the tax-relief plan. State officials predict that 95 percent of the New Jersey households will benefit from the tax cuts.

Contrast that with Gov. Ed Rendell, Corzine's fellow tax-and-spend liberal across the river.

Candidate Rendell promised to cut property taxes for all Pennsylvania residents by 30 percent. That was in 2002. Gov. Rendell reneged on the promise in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Safely re-elected to a second term, Rendell is now talking about raising -- not lowering -- taxes. Even his proposal to raise the sales tax in order to cut property taxes is more smoke and mirrors. Only one-third of the money from the increased sales tax would go to property tax relief. The rest would feed Rendell's enormous appetite for spending.

In addition to his 2002 boast that he could cut property taxes standing on his head, Rendell also promised that Act 72 would help lower property taxes. That was a lie. Rendell promised that the approval of casino gambling in Pennsylvania would lower property taxes. Another lie. Rendell promised that Act 1 would lead to lower taxes. He lied again.

Now Rendell is promising to cut property taxes if the Legislature approves a 1 percent increase in the state sales tax. If he lied to us in each of his first four years in office, why would anyone think Rendell will keep his promise?

That is a question voters need to pose to the 102 Democrats in the state House and the 21 Democrats in the state Senate. How far are these lemmings willing to follow Rendell? Especially when Ed Spendell's policies will sink Pennsylvania into a fiscal crisis.

Pennsylvania voters need to make sure their state legislators understand that if they vote for any more Rendell tax increases, they will be out of a job in 2008.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Baby steps toward reform

Reforming the Pennsylvania Legislature might be easier than we thought.

The Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform approved three changes in the way the Legislature conducts its business on Wednesday.

The biggest change backed by the bipartisan reform panel is the elimination of late-night (and early-morning) voting sessions. Believe it or not, the vote was unanimous. At this rate, we should have the Legislature cleaned up before spring.

The panel agreed that voting sessions should end by 11 p.m. This should bring an end to horrible decisions like the 2004 vote to legalize slots or the 2005 vote to raise their own pay or the 2006 vote to permit unlimited free drinks at Pennsylvania casinos. All of those votes took place after midnight.

Then again, maybe the 11 p.m. curfew won't make a difference. We're still dealing with the same brain-dead legislators. They'll just make bad decisions before 11 p.m. if the panel's recommendation is adopted by the full House.

The best quote from Wednesday's session came from panel member Tom Tangretti, a Democrat from Westmoreland County: "I honestly believe that there are many times in the past where we have been held here late into the night to wear members down."

The decision to vote only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. passed by a 24-0 margin on the 24-member reform commission and will probably sail through the full House in March. The state Senate already adopted a similar rule for its deliberations.

(The House panel did leave a loophole in its recommendation. The 8 a.m.-11 p.m. voting window can be waived under "exigent circumstances" with a three-quarters vote on the House floor.)

Recommendations to make it even tougher for the Legislature to hold votes when you least expect them failed to get the three-quarters support from each party that would send the recommendations to the full House.

A vote to prohibit Sunday sessions failed 7-17, and a proposal to end voting an hour earlier, at 10 p.m., was rejected 11-13. Eight Republicans supported the 10 p.m. measure, which shows you that the Republican members on the panel are more serious about reform than their Democratic counterparts.

The panel also debated several other reforms, but you’d have to get out your copy of Roberts Rules of Order to keep up with the parliamentary gymnastics.

For example, the panel voted to recommend that lawmakers who move to suspend the House rules be allowed to debate the merits of doing so — a procedure currently limited to party leaders.

The move is designed to give more power to the rank-and-file members, who are often kept out of the loop by party leaders until it's time to rubber-stamp legislation the bosses want passed.

The reform panel also suggested eliminating the practice of allowing amendments to bills to be tabled without tabling the entire piece of legislation.

The only "no" vote regarding that measure came from Rep. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, who has no business being on the reform commission.

Argall, the Republican whip in the House, a payjacker and longtime opponent of reform, was put on the panel to keep tabs on the other commission members for the GOP leadership.

So far, so good. But the panel's recommendations are baby steps on the road to reforming the House. We still have a long way to go.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rendell budget is dead on arrival

Show of hands. How many of the 55 newly elected members of the Pennsylvania Legislature are going to support the myriad of tax increases needed to fund Gov. Ed Rendell's 2007 budget?

Rendell unveiled his $27.3 billion spending plan Tuesday for the fiscal year beginning July 1. To balance the budget, the governor will ask the Legislature to approve increasing or enacting a half-dozen different taxes.

If you're one of those 55 legislators swept into office in 2006 because your predecessor voted himself a pay raise in 2005, what are your chances of winning re-election if you vote to increase taxes? Slim and none and slim just left Harrisburg in an SUV paid by the taxpayers.

Remember that the House members, including the 50 freshmen who were sworn in Jan. 2, will face the voters again in 2008. That's next year. And half the Senate will also stand re-election in 2008.

No politician in his right mind — especially in today's political climate — wants to face voters with the weight of tax increases around their necks, especially when voters keep saying they want taxes cut — not raised.

Rendell's "raise taxes and raise taxes more" spending plan has no chance of passing the GOP-controlled state Senate.

The "climate for tax increases right now is a difficult one," Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, told The Associated Press. "I think there was a stunning array of different new taxes we need to look at."

Even the lockstep Democrats in the House — with their 1-vote majority — will break from Rendell when push comes to shove. Rendell doesn't have to worry about facing the voters. He's the governor until 2010. But freshmen Democrats won't willingly end their political careers so Rendell can make a name for himself on the national scene.

Here's a quick look at Rendell's requests for tax hikes to balance his out-of-control budget and the chances any of those tax hikes will make it past the Legislature.

The governor wants to increase the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to help provide property-tax cuts, but only a portion of the money will be used to cut taxes and that will be gradual over several years. Voters want all property taxes eliminated and won't support an increase in the sales tax unless all the money goes to property tax relief. No chance of passing either chamber in the Legislature.

Rendell wants to impose a new electricity consumption tax to pay off $850 million in borrowing for alternative power development and energy conservation. No chance of passing even if Al Gore shows up to stump for the plan.

The governor wants to increase municipal solid-waste disposal fees by $2.75 per ton. Those costs will be passed on to residents. This one has no chance either.

Rendell also wants to impose a new tax on oil companies' gross profits and exempt those companies from the state's corporate net-income tax. Oil companies like making lots of money and the consumers will get hit with higher gas at the pump. Rendell also wants to tax oil companies' gross profits to raise $760 million for mass transit. Another tax that won't see the light of day.

Rendell wants to increase the cigarette tax from $1.35 to $1.45 per pack, levy a new tax on other forms of tobacco (cigars and chew) and impose a new 3 percent payroll tax on employers who do not provide employee health benefits. The cigarette tax may pass because smokers are not organized. But forget the payroll tax. The business community will balk and lawmakers will listen.

The only part of Rendell's ambitious spending agenda that may pass is leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike. But Rendell faces opposition from his own union workers who like working for the state and will resist having to work for a private company.

If the initial reaction to Rendell's "tax and tax some more" budget is any indication, the governor is in for four unhappy years.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Feds should investigate Pennsylvania Legislature

There's disturbing reports that some of the secret bonus money handed out to staffers by Pennsylvania lawmakers was recycled back into political campaigns of state legislators, which is essentially stealing taxpayer money to fund political campaigns.

Does anybody have the number of the FBI or the U.S. Attorney or the Justice Department? Instead of harassing Scooter Libby, the feds should be investigating the cesspool known as the Pennsylvania Legislature.

And where is the Pennsylvania Attorney General in all this? Shouldn't he be launching his own investigation?

Here's the latest on the growing bonusgate scandal. File this under closing the barn door after the horses ran off ...

The Associated Press reported Monday that Speaker Dennis M. O'Brien has decided that the House of Representatives will release a list of its employees's salaries in light of the growing bonusgate scandal that was gripped Harrisburg.

Salary information for this year would be released by Feb. 16, and in future years the salaries would be made public by Feb. 1, O'Brien wrote in a memo to the chief clerk's office.

"The new speaker is trying to bring in openness and transparency to the House," O'Brien spokesman Bill Patton told the Associated Press. "This is part of that effort."

(It's more like damage control in light of the latest boondoggle involving the misuse of taxpayer dollars by the Pennsylvania House of Lords.)

In case you've been in a cave in the last 10 days, news has come out that Legislative leaders have handed out $3.7 million on bonuses to staffers in the past two years. The new leadership is claiming it had no idea this was going on under the previous leadership (except for Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese, who knew about it, but suffered from memory loss when it came to fess up about how much money he handed out to his minions.)

The clerk's office will have to determine the format in which the salaries are released, Patton told the AP.

Previously, anyone seeking salary information was required to file a request with the chief clerk's office and allowed to review only a limited number of records in person, Patton told the AP.

Both parties in the House and a legislative reform panel appointed by O'Brien are discussing how to disclose information on any future bonuses that are awarded, Patton told the AP.

As an aside, one of the most generous party bosses in the past two years was Sen. David "Chip" Brightbill, who served as Republican Majority Leader in the Senate until voters in his district tossed him out of office last year.

I've been getting a lot of flack from GOP oldtimers about my frequent criticism of Brightbill, but remarkably, I have not heard a peep out of the GOP insiders since the news broke about bonusgate. I guess even they are having a hard time defending Brightbill on this one.

Brightbill got what he deserved. He abandoned his constituents and took advantage of his position to benefit political cronies and sycophants.

The Republicans will never take back control of the House until they come to grips with the fact that many of their leaders abandoned Republican principles.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Does Pennsylvania have an official state song? If not, here's the first tune that pops into my head when I think of the Keystone State:

(If you drive a car) I'll tax the street
(If you try to sit) I'll tax your seat
(If you get too cold) I'll tax the heat
(If you take a walk) I'll tax your feet
Taxman! 'Cause I'm the taxman
Yeah, I'm the taxman

And you're working for no one but me

— Lyrics from "Taxman" by George Harrison

It's a new year and the Pennsylvania Taxman is busier than ever.

Gov. Ed Rendell now wants to tax electricity to fund his new renewable energy plan.

A couple of weeks ago, he was talking about raising the tax on cigarettes and imposing a payroll tax on Pennsylvania businesses to fund his health care plan.

Rendell's proposal to raise the state's gasoline tax is still out there and so is his desire to raise the realty transfer tax and impose higher earned income taxes to fund his transportation plan.

Soon, the governor will jump on a plan to raise the state sales tax with the promise that it will eventually lead to property tax cuts. You remember the property tax cuts Rendell promised in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 and 2005 and 2006? Well, he'll promise some more down the road if you let him raise the sales tax.

I swear Rendell would tax the air we breathe if he could figure out a way to collect the money from us.

Every month, I like to take time to remind Pennsylvania residents how much they pay in taxes to the state.

Here is the end-of-the-month report on taxes and fees collected by the Pennsylvania Revenue Department for January:

The state collected $2.3 billion in General Fund revenue in January, which was $28.2 million, or 1.3 percent, more than anticipated. Fiscal year-to-date General Fund collections total $13.7 billion, which is $95 million, or 0.7 percent, above estimate.

Sales Tax receipts totaled $856 million for January, which was $11.9 million above estimate. Sales Tax collections year-to-date total $5.1 billion, which is $42.5 million below estimate, or 0.8 percent less than anticipated.

Personal Income Tax (PIT) revenue in January was $1.1 million, which was $7.8 million above estimate and brings year-to-date PIT collections to $5.3 billion, or $73.5 million above estimate.

January Corporation Tax revenue of $135 million was $24 million above estimate. Year-to-date Corporation Tax collections total $1.7 billion, which is $86.6 million, or 5.4 percent, above estimate.

Other General Fund revenue figures for the month included $70.5 million in Inheritance Tax, which was $7.9 million above estimate and brought the year- to-date total to $429.8 million, or $19.6 million below estimate.

Realty Transfer Tax revenue was $52.4 million for January, bringing the total to $352.8 million for the year, which is $21.2 million less than anticipated.

Other General Fund revenue, including the Cigarette, Malt Beverage and Liquor Tax, totaled $94.2 million for the month, which was $23.5 million below estimate. Year-to-date collections have totaled $802.9 million, which is $18.2 million above estimate.

In addition to the General Fund collections, the Motor License Fund received $204 million for the month, which was $16.8 million above estimate. Fiscal year-to-date collections for the fund total $1.4 billion, which is $0.9 million, or 0.1 percent, below estimate.

The Gaming Fund received $66.8 million in unrestricted revenues for January. Fiscal year-to-date collections for the fund total $175.7 million. Gaming Fund receipts include taxes, fees and interest. Of the total for the month, $16.3 million was collected in state taxes for property tax relief, bringing the year-to-date total to $24.8 million.

Other gaming-related revenues collected for January included $3 million for the Local Share Assessment, for a total of $4 million for the year; $2.4 million for the Economic Development and Tourism Fund, for a year-to-date total of $3.7 million; and $5.7 million for the Race Horse Development Fund, bringing the total for the year to $8.8 million.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bonus boondoggle

It should come as no surprise that Pennsylvania legislative leaders gave out $3.7 million in taxpayer money as "bonuses" to selected staff members during the last two years.

This is the same Legislature that voted itself a middle-of-the-night pay raise and adjourned for summer vacation figuring it would all blow over.

The same Legislature that costs $308 million to operate each year. The same Legislature where leaders set up slush funds to siphon $215 million from the state treasury. The same Legislature whose members enjoy top-of-the-line pay, free medical care, a lifetime pension, a taxpayer-paid vehicle and all sorts of other perks.

News of the bonus payments is incredulous. Even Gov. Ed Rendell, who has pulled some fast ones on taxpayers over the past four years, called the bonus bonanza "stunning" when he found out how much money was involved. This from a man who wakes up each day thinking of new ways to spend other people's money.

"I think that what was done was stunning," Rendell was quoted by The Associated Press. "It shows that the need for reform is ever-present and urgent." No kidding, Sherlock.

The biggest windfall went to Mike Long, chief of staff to former Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer. Long received a total of $41,000 in bonuses money in 2005 and 2006. In addition, Long was awarded a $95,000 severance package by Jubelirer, who was tossed out of office by voters for his support of the legislative pay raise. Long is the brother-in-law of former Senate Majority Leader Chip Brightbill, who was also ousted by the voters last year.

House Democrats announced Thursday their payments to staffers totaled $2.4 million after previously stating they gave out $400,000 in bonus money. I'm guessing math is not a strong suit for the Democrats except when it comes to adding zeros to the bonus checks of staff members.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate were equally generous with our money. Senate Republican leaders spent $350,000 over the past two years on their hard-working staffers. Senate Democrats disclosed about $38,000 in bonuses from last year. House Republicans acknowledged approving $919,000 in bonuses during the two-year period.

Government watchdogs believe some of the work done by legislative aides may have been political, which is prohibited by state law. The bonus money may have been an attempt by legislators to circumvent the law and reward staffers who helped during political campaigns.

Gene Stilp, a Harrisburg-area citizen activist, filed a lawsuit this week to force House Democratic Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, to justify the raises and show whether they were related to campaign work.

The state's courts have not been very proactive in making sure the legislature does not violate the state constitution, so don't expect any help from the bench. But give Stilp credit for filing the lawsuit and bringing this latest scandal to the public's attention.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, who took office on Jan. 2, announced they will end the practice of awarding bonuses to legislative staffers.

Making sure everybody knew they were not involved in the decisions to give out the bonus money, Pileggi and Scarnati said: "We are ending this practice immediately."

Over at the House, DeWeese, who is never at a loss for words, had nothing to say about the growing bonus scandal. DeWeese said through an aide that the bonuses were an "an internal personnel matter" and he didn't want to discuss it. Wrong answer. When taxpayer money is involved, it's everybody's business.

One of the biggest windfalls went to Michael Manzo, who happens to be DeWeese's chief of staff. Manzo received $26,000 over the two-year period, according to The Associated Press. And Mr. Manzo wasn't the only member of his family to hit the jackpot. Manzo's wife, Rachel, who was the Democratic executive director of the Tourism and Recreational Development Committee, received $16,250 in bonuses during the same period, the AP reported.

The man who beat Jubelirer in the May 2006 primary election, John Eichelberger, R-Blair, has asked the state Attorney General to investigate the bonuses. An investigation by an outside agency is certainly warranted. While we're at it, let's call in the Justice Department and the FBI.

Voters also need to take action. This is another example of the continuous fleecing of Pennsylvania taxpayers by their elected representatives and one more reason to keep voting incumbents out of office.